28 Nov 2010

Living Flood Histories: great day!

Well Friday last week I went along to a day's workshop in Bristol on flooding and 'art' - it had the catchy-title: ‘Researching Learning to Live with Water: Flood histories, Environmental Change, Remembrance and Resilience'.

Photos: from the event that was also being filmed for a possible Youtube film

It was an Arts and Humanities Research Council funded project involving folk from various universities around the country - this was the first of a series of workshops - I was one of 6 speakers - the others all Profs and Docs, I was there with a local action group perspective having helped set up the Ruscombe Brook Action Group and the Stroud Valleys Water Forum - plus of course being a District councillor and sitting on the Wessex Water Customer Liaison Panel.

So what was it all about? Well it was hugely informative and interesting - learnt lots - it is exciting when different perspectives come together. Indeed to give some ideas I will attach the programme below with some additional comments - there will also be more coming soon on their blog at: http://livingfloodhistories.wordpress.com/

The aims of the network can be found here - basically about exploring the potential that arts and humanities approaches have (in interdisciplinary contexts) to contribute to our understandings of how communities have lived with flood risk in the past, and how they might do so in the future.

Friday aimed "to draw together an initial set of ideas, projects and examples from artists, interdisciplinary academics and activists who are in some way or other working with communities in relation to past flood trauma and future flood resilience. This will then serve as a springboard for the development of the network through online resources and subsequent events. In workshops two and three, we will be particularly interested in projects which seek to work between artist practices/ humanities research approaches and practical development of resilience in communities."

There is a great introduction to the project here. It includes: "The July 2007 floods in Gloucestershire were considered by hydrologists to be a very extreme event, with percentage probabilities of occurrence of <0.5>200 year return period) on some rivers (Marsh and Hannaford, 2007). It represented the biggest peacetime civil emergency in recent history. The scale of these floods brought the possible interaction between fluvial (river), pluvial (surface water) and groundwater flooding in a single event on to the radar of the public and those involved in flood risk management. The severity of the 2007 floods was again matched by those in Cumbria in 2009. Lives, property, strategic infrastructure, and the fabrics of local communities and economies were inundated and destroyed. Many other smaller, but equally severe at the local level, instances of flooding of settlements and parts of settlements have occurred and seem set to continue across the UK. Across Europe and globally, extreme floods events have also occurred in the 1990s and 2000s."

Indeed as it goes on these events have helped confirm the view that out climate is changing. However as the day noted and this blog has done too - flood and drought are two sides of the same coin. A point perhaps missed by policies and approaches like the Pitt Review - although the Pitt Review does embed the idea of resilience - how can communities, and society more generally, be (made more) resilient in the face of flood risk and flood events.

One aspect these workshops hope to explore more about community resilience is that of community knowledge. Not something Pitt considers - but as the introduction says "the community knowledge around flood resilience is embodied within the stories that reside within individuals and communities and are shared about past flooding experiences."

In the arts there is a growing interest in landscape, place, nature, community, environment and environmental history - in Stroud we have groups like the excellent 'Walking the Land' that have had many local exhibitions and walks and more. The arts as this 'Living Flood' project hopes to show can help with investigating local histories of flooding, helping manage the after effects of floods and living with flood risk, connecting those who have no experience of floods with those who have to help prepare in areas identified as flood risk. It is extraordinary that houses continue to be built on flood plains.

Anyway here is that programme below from the first day to give a flavour of it - apols as all these are notes - hopefully the reports and papers will be available on the web as I cannot even begin to do justice to them here!!

Learning to Live with Water: Flood histories, Environmental Change, Remembrance and Resilience. Workshop 1: Floods and environmental change: conceptual frameworks for thinking about watery landscapes and living with floods.

Date Friday 26th Nov. at UWE Bower Ashton Campus, Bristol (pictured left).


10.00 - 10.30 Registration and coffee

10.30. House-keeping introduction

10.35. Network / workshop introduction by Professor Lindsey McEwen and project team (Dr Owain Jones (pictured left), Dr Iain Robertson and Professor Mike Wilson)

10.45. Reading 1: From Small Memories by José Saramago. Lissa Carter, who performed the readings is a theatre specialist working in the south-west - trained at New College and later completed a MA in Feminist Performance at Bristol University. She has taught acting skills for many years and is a voice specialist. I loved these readings that were delivered beautifully - many of them bringing to life flood experiences, many of them bringing a smile...what a treat for us!

10.50. Talk 1: Dr. Lucy Veale. School of Geography, University of Nottingham “Representations of climate change in East Midlands museum collections”. This was fascinating and has inspired me to see if we can do something similar in Gloucestershire - see their network here and more about the Mubu climate change project here. Lucy talked about some of the pitfalls of climate change exhibitions but also some of the possibilities. I've already started some conversations on this - as blog readers will know I have long felt the County has failed us with their library service not being used to promote actions for a lower carbon economy - climate change is one of GCC's aims yet they don't seem to use the tools they have to help tackle it - it took me far too long to get the Energy Monitors project off the ground despite all around being keen and willing - I am hoping that project will encourage more similar projects. But now museums I can see more clearly museums have huge potential......each region really needs a Lucy to get this ball rolling but I understand from an artist at this event that there is already interest in this area.....

11. 10. Talk 2: Dr. Chad Staddon, Bristol Water Group, University of West of England (UWE)
"Climate Change, Extreme Weather and People: the socio-cultural experience of flooding". I also loved this talk as it posed questions like are floods really what we should be focusing on - this goes back to my comment earlier re flood and drought but also a wider issue....

11.30. Coffee

11.45. Reading 2: From Waterland by Graham Swift

11.50. Talk 3: Dr. Simon Read, School of Arts and Education, Middlesex University and Artist: “Imagining Change. (Artist as mediator in coastal flooding histories and future scenarios)”. Again another fascinating talk about the Suffolk coast and use of beautifully painted maps to plot and record flooding and impact - to show how the 'armour' defences along the coast - rocks from Norway - are collapsing and communities are threatened. In the afternoon a couple of artworks by Simon Read were on display including "A map of the River Deben to show topography and the indicative flood plain 1999-2010" - beautiful but also an extraordinary record.

12.15. Reading 3: From accounts of the 1607 floods of Somerset and Monmouthshire

12.20. Talk 4: Dr. Rebecca Whittle, Lancaster Environment Centre; University of Lancaster “After the rain: flood, vulnerabilityand urban resilience in Hull”. This talk was also brilliant - a great project looking at adults and children who had experienced flood - work compiled from interviews and diaries to give a real flavour of how floods impact. It isn't the flood that often causes the problems but the aftermath and dealing with insurers and more....

12.40. End of morning discussions

1.00. Lunch (with slide show of flood heritage markers/images running on loop)

1.45. Reading 4: Wetland – life in the Somerset Levels, by Patrick Sutherland and Adam Nicholson

1.50. Talk 5: Philip Booth, Stroud Green Party Councillor and Water Issue Activist: “The story of Stroud water politics and the Ruscombe Brook Action Group”. Well my 20 minutes - although I apparently ran over a couple - was looking at how RBAG was formed and what we have been doing with community groups, Councils and others. It was a whistle-stop tour of some of the highlights - missed out lots but hopefully gave a flavour. It was also good to hear that a couple of artists in teh audience were interested in something here in Stroud.

I also mentioned three artists - the international Iranian artist Ahmad Nadalian who had a big impact on me seeing how powerful art can be at getting messages across (see my blog here and here re his visit to Stroud) plus two local artists - Simon Packard (see here - his sculptures are still at Ruskin Mill) and Richard Dean (see map left which was in my presentation and see my blog here).
“These maps are not intended to scare, but the vision is rather alarming. Art making has always had a visionary, prophetic intention, to see into humanity’s dreams as well as nightmares, to explore the things we fear most. Maybe in this way we become better able to deal with these fears, and possibly also get a firm grip on what we need to do to avoid them. I hope we can all learn from their watery tales”. Dean 2009.

2.10. Reading 5: In Time of Flood James Crowden

2.15. Talk 6: Nicola Whyte Department of History, University of Exeter: “Memories of wateryscapes in the early modern period”. Wow was this interesting - I've had an awarenss of the use of court reports - think I caught something on radio 4 a while back but this was really interesting to see how these old reports can be used to look at our landscape and tell us stories - to look at memory and oral traditions and for example how flood landscapes changed grazing and impacted on local Parishes and farmers.

2.35. Discussion and short presentation by Professor Mike Pearson of Aberystwyth University. Mike was the keynote discussant at the first workshop - Professor of Performance Studies at Department of Theatre, Film and Television Studies, University of Aberystwyth. Professor Pearson is a leading international academic in the area of performance, place and landscape and the author of In Comes I: Performance, Memory and Landscape, University of Exeter Press, 2006 and Theatre/Archaeology, London & New York, Routledge/Taylor & Francis, 2001 (with M. Shanks ). Again a very interesting talk about the carrlands project: www.carrlands.org.uk/

That is well worth a look and indeed a listen - some 3 hours of audio - but hey I'm running out of puff with this blog so must stop....

3.00. Open discussion forum on the day (inc coffee - and hey this was the best coffee I've had for many years at any conference - fresh and quality!).

3.45. End.

Thanks to the organisers and indeed for the invite.


fiona said...

Thx for posting summary of seminar. I'm preparing for the next one (3/2/11) and it was useful to be reminded of the presentations.

Philip Booth said...

See my blog on 1st Jan 2011 for link to powerpoint presentations of the day.